No, we will not let you go, "Bohemian Rhapsody." Queen's epic, nearly six-minute 1975 opus has become a classic rock anthem, despite the meaning of the lyrics being a mystery. For example, who is Scaramouche and why are they doing the fandango?
Some may find the story of how Queen recorded "Bohemian Rhapsody" surprising. The song became a No. 1 hit in the UK (twice, in 1975 and 1991); took the top spot in a Rolling Stone Readers' Poll of "The Best Vocal Performances in Rock History;" received two Grammy nominations in 1976; and landed on the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame's list of "500 Songs That Shaped Rock." And yet lead vocalist Freddie Mercury and the rest of Queen had trouble convincing their record company to champion the song.
Studio stories about Queen and the hours spent making "Bohemian Rhapsody" offer insight into the process, genius, and risk the band took to compose the song.
Freddie Mercury Was The Song's Mastermind
Once Queen was in the studio, "Bohemian Rhapsody" evolved in line with Mercury's artistic vision. The opera expanded as members added more vocals during the 12-hour days of recording. The entire song, however, according to fellow Queen member Brian May "was all in Freddie's mind."
Even when they added parts, May said that "[Mercury] sang a guide vocal at the time, but he had all his harmonies written out, and it was really just a question of doing it." Mercury and his team of studio engineers spent hours at the console splicing the parts together.
Queen's Recording Company Didn't Think The Song Would WorkVideo: YouTube
"Bohemian Rhapsody" was a hard sell to EMI, Queen's recording company. Mercury told a radio station after the song's release about how the band members knew it would be "a huge success or a terrific flop" because it was unprecedented.
As the song came together, EMI executives felt concerned. They suggested either scrapping the song because of its length or releasing it as an EP instead of a single. None of the band members allowed the song to be cut, however, and they put up a unified front.
The Song Was A Major Technical Achievement
Not many recording studios had the technological requirements to handle what Queen needed for their recording of "Bohemian Rhapsody," which is why the band ended up recording it at six different studios, including Trident and SARM Studios, where they could use the 24-track recording facility to combine vocals.
Mercury used a "ping-pong technique" to bounce sounds around, which the Beach Boys had done a decade earlier, but not many other bands attempted this. Still, without the digital technology available today, they had to splice together all the submixes.
Mercury Played The Same Piano Used In 'Hey Jude'
Queen recorded the opening piano section in "Bohemian Rhapsody" at Trident Studios in London. The band members were aware the Beatles had recorded "Hey Jude" in 1968 at the studio, using the same control room and piano.
Elton John also used the Bechstein Concert Grand piano to record "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" in 1973.